Costa Rica

Caribbean Coast

Caribbean Coast

July 2023

After spending four wonderful weeks at home in Europe, we had flown back to San Jose, Costa Rica. The car was still there in the exact same spot, which was no surprise. Finally we could sleep in our camper again. The next day we still had to do some shopping and then we left San Jose already behind us and hit the road again. Our next destination was the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

Departure Amsterdam
Landing San Jose
Reunited with our camper
Leaving San Jose

Frankly, we had to get used to everything a little bit again. Cahuita National Park is 260 kilometers from the capital, near the border with Panama. We just had assumed we would cover this distance in a day, but really we should have known better. Dusk began around 5 p.m. and by 6 p.m. it was pitch black. We were still 40 kilometers short, but since driving in the dark is a no go, we decided to go off the road and found a lovely spot on the beach of the Caribbean Sea. Without thinking we parked under a palm tree, but after a clear moment we still relocated the car. A coconut falling on the car roof was something we didn’t want.

With jet lag still fresh in our blood, we woke up at 5:30 a.m. to the sound of the waves without an alarm clock. We pushed aside the curtains and looked out at the rising sun that was just in the process of clearing itself off the Caribbean blue water.

Cahuita National Park is really nothing more than a small peninsula that juts a kilometer or two into the Caribbean Sea with one hiking trail about nine kilometers long that mostly follows the shoreline. The first two kilometers were on a wooden boardwalk through the densely vegetated forest where a number of Keel-billed toucans (Fischertukane) soon flew overhead. Mostly sloths are said to live here, but it was a large group of capuchin monkeys that we got to see next.


The wooden boardwalk goes almost seamlessly into a white sandy beach, which makes this region quite special because where else can you walk through dense jungle into the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean? After a cooling off break and a dip in the water at Punta Cahuita, we continued our way along the coastline where, with the help of a park ranger, we got to see a sloth at last.

We drove a little further east in search of the Green Macaw (Bechsteinara) sanctuary. The sanctuary had been set up tucked away in the jungle in 2010 to save this macaw species from extinction. Currently, worldwide there are about 1,000 animals living in the wild. 300 of them in Costa Rica only, also thanks to the success of this sanctuary.

The tour began with an explanation of the creation of the protected area and, of course, we were told about the protagonists themselves who occasionally made themselves heard from high up in the trees. In the beginning, the Macaws born here were fully fed here so they know their way to this place all too well. Since 2016, it was decided to only feed them twice a day in order to teach the animals to look for food themselves and not make them dependent. Every day 15:00 sharp is a fixed feeding time and for tourists this is the opportunity to see these beautiful animals flying around in their wild habitat.


The green wings, but especially their blue, red and yellow colored tails are a joy to the eye and to see them so freely soaring through the air. As icing on the cake, the park ranger found a poisonous eyelash viper (Greifschwanz-Lanzenotter) that also allowed itself to be photographed by those present. Along the beach at Punta Uva, we still had an hour or two left to look at the rippling water with a freshly picked coconut in hand.

Punta Uva

Of course, we couldn’t just do nothing. We still had to replace our left mirror that had broken during the border crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica and for which we had bought a new second-hand one in Germany. We turned a couple of screws that held the broken mirror in place and, lo and behold, it came off without too much trouble and within half an hour we had completed “operation mirror”.


There is a shipwreck on the beach at Manzanillo four kilometers away. The rough sea sometimes completely engulfed the rusted wreck. We walked a little further along the beach and again were totally amazed by the beauty of this area. The howler monkeys on the left, the rough sea on the right. After noon, the sun was shining brightly and after a dip in the waves, we decided to take another walk in the Manzanillo Nature Reserve. Once again, we ended the day at Punta Uva.

For the third day in a row, we woke up early and sat alone with a cup of coffee on the beach in the shade projected onto the white sand by the palm trees. Although it was only 6:30, the sun was already warming the air to the extent that every bit  of shade was welcome. When the second round of coffee was also finished we packed everything up and left. We wanted to leave the Caribbean coast and make our way over the mountains to the Pacific. 

We did some shopping in Siquirres and then wound our way up into the mountains on endless curves. Our destination for the day was the Parador Turistico San Buenaventura campsite, situated on a large lake. After not having seen a drop of rain for the last 3 days, we were now driving into big dark clouds, which also poured down on us. We found a pitch right by the lake, thatt was barely recognizable as such. A huge carpet of aquatic plants hardly showed any difference to the green surroundings. We enjoyed the more pleasant temperatures here compared to the coast.

Buying vegetables
The sky opens it's floodgates
Parador Turistico San Buenaventura

We were woken up by birdsong and treated ourselves to the first (cold) shower after 5 days. We wanted to reach the Quetzales National Park today. There were only 120 kilometers to go, but it was quite a long ride again. We drove mountain roads up to 2400 meters and it took us almost 4 hours to cover the distance. The last section was particularly tough. It went down into the valley in sharp serpentines on sometimes very steep sections. The road was also quite narrow and we had to watch out for oncoming traffic.

Of course, we didn’t take on these hardships for no reason. Here in the mountains lives the Quetzal, this mystical bird that has captivated us since Guatemala, but which we had been unable to discover until now. Perhaps this was our last chance to see this beautiful bird after all. We had chosen Casa Monge Lodge as our place to spend the night. Not only were there pitches right by the river, but the Quetzal is also said to be at home here. The best chance of seeing the bird is after sunrise and before sunset.

Our first hike took us to a nearby waterfall. On muddy paths over slippery stones and roots, we went deeper and deeper into the jungle. Once again, we were amazed by this beautiful nature and immersed ourselves in this incredible greenery. After this short but beautiful hike, we set off in search of the Quetzal. We walked a short distance along the road to a potential sighting spot. The Quetzal is fairly tree-fixed and generally keeps to the same area. It was already starting to get dark and visibility was getting worse. Just before we were about to give up, we saw a large green bird with a red breast. Was it a Quetzal? We weren’t sure, it was just too far away for that.

So we had to be willing to sacrifice to see Central America’s most coveted bird. Getting up at 5:00 a.m. two mornings in a row is not something we are necessarily very good at. Still, we managed to hoist ourselves out of the warm bed and after a quick cup of coffee, we set out on foot in search.

It was Romy who first spotted two larger colored birds sitting in a tree. We couldn’t believe our luck because with our binoculars it was immediately obvious. A female and a male Quetzal were sitting next to each other on a branch. Especially the male could not sit stillfor long and not much later flew directly over us with his long green tail. We clambered up a trail that had clearly not been walked for a long time, towards the tree where the female was still quietly enjoying the beautiful Savegre valley. Here we were able to admire the bird up close for a while longer.

Actually, we had planned to spend only one night at this place, but we found it so incredibly beautiful that we extended our stay, which we did not regret. On the second day we got several Quetzals and even an Emerald Toucanet (Laucharassari) in front of our lens, which was hiding well in a tree and occasionally showed itself. All in all beeing here in Quetzales National Park had been a wonderful experience.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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